Teammate trouble: Why Wiggins’ withdrawal doesn’t spell the end for Team tensions

You reckon the Tour is going to be a boring Sky procession with Froome in yellow now? Disappointed that Wiggins’ departure for a ‘knee injury’ that apparently means he wont even be good enough to feature in the best nine riders for Sky (…) means that we won’t have three weeks of sniping and forced smiles turning into all out mutiny? Fear not, there is still plenty of teammate intrigue to be had in this years event…

A brief history of team mutiny

With it’s odd position as a team sport that rewards wins to individuals, cycling has always had problems with men on the same team trying to beat each other. Once Henri Desgrange got over the fact that riders were going to draft one another and that financial footing was secured by riders being grouped into teams, men were grouped into homogenous, national-based teams of riders who would usually work for one leader, but obviously not always. Coppi and Bartali’s Italian team was an example of a team mate upstaging his team leader, as the upstart Coppi undermined Bartali, leading to great debate over everything from the famous ‘bottle photo’ to national politics based purely on whom appeared to be in the ascendency. In recent times, there have been a number of key ‘internal battles’ however.

'Oh Bernard, you and your half-wheeling...'
‘Oh Bernard, you and your half-wheeling…’

The 1986 Tour de France is seen as the pinnacle of this, where the defending champion Bernard Hinault had promised to help his youthful teammate, Greg Lemond, win that year after the latter had helped him win in 1985. Lemond had been somewhat annoyed in 1985 when he was told to wait for Hinault, apparently only seconds behind, yet it turned out to be minutes. Lemond almost left the race, but stayed on to finish second. Hinault then basically tried his best to win in 1986, with the pair famously riding up Alped’Huez together smiling – judging by Richard Moore’s excellent account of the race, the most friendly they got in the whole race. Lemond won, but the two clearly were not overly keen on each other. Hinault had also been unkeen on Laurent Fignon beating him, but not the same extent as ‘Le American’.

Such good chums
Such good chums

In more recent years the problem has only really started to reappear, perhaps because economic conditions and ‘superteams’ have compressed the number of avaliable teams and so forced more ‘stars’ onto less teams. Combined with, we hope, less of the top names taking drugs, more men have found themselves able to compete and thus the numbers who can win are higher. Basic maths tells us that if there arent enough teams for all the stars to be top dog, someone is going to have to cohabit. T-Mobile tried this tactic in the noughties, where Ullrich, Vinokorouv and Kloden would attack one another despite being on the same team, and Astana provided most of the interest in the slow-boil 2009 Tour by having Lance Armstrong force his team against Contador to the point where Contador apparently didn’t have a car to take him to the start of a time trial. He still won though…

wiggofroome

We probably won’t know what was going on with Froome and Wiggins in 2012 until one of them retires or leaves the team, as the PR department seem to have ordered them to shut up on it, despite various contradictions as to versions of events – did Froome have his ear piece in? If so, what was he told? It is sad that we wont get to see the rematch in 2013, but assuming neither leave, 2014 will see them rumble in what could be an even more charged encounter – British soil, with Froome possibly the defending champion against Wiggins, looking to prove 2012 wasn’t a fluke. In the mean time though…

2013 Grudges

1. Cadel Evans v Tejay Van Garderen (BMC)

'We're not racing one another, honest...;
‘We’re not racing one another, honest…;

This is the new ‘Wiggo/Froome’ , except the contrasts are more stark: Evans, the previous winner and aging force, Van Garderen the youthful talent who beat him last year. Evans and BMC insists that he will be the leader this year, and to be fair to Van Garderen, even he has mirrored this. Whether it will turn out to be the case is another matter – if Evans is struggling, it is unlikely to see Van Garderen sacrificing the lead group to help him – after all, Sky have managed to lose the Vuelta by favouring the wrong man, and lost a good chance of winning the Giro by sending Uran back to help Wiggins despite his high GC position.

Who is going to win? Well, neither of them is going to win overall, unless Evans can dig his 2011 form out, but he will probably shade the perhaps overrated Van Garderen, who struggled through the mountains last year before coming good in the TT’s and the last days in the mountains.

2. Marcel Kittel v John Deglenkob (Argos Shimano)

bettiniphoto_0094710_1_full_600

The Teutonic terrors of the Dutch squad will be keen to win a stage,but when both are such fast finishers, they will surely get in each others way at some point. Kittel is more the traditional fast man – a hulking ex-time triallist turned sprinter who is an utter powerhouse for the sprints, whilst Deglenkob is equally huge with thighs bursting with muscle fibre, but has a bit more about him, allowing him to drag himself over hills and pummel men with his sheer power over longer distances. The first stage in Corsica will be for Kittel, but then the next couple will suit Deglenkob – would Kittel give up yellow to help him?

Who is going to win?  Deglenkob has the better chance of a win due to his varied skill-set, but both may well sneak a win from somewhere.

3. Alejandro Valverde v Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

Alejandro-Valverde-Nairo-Quintana

Another young versus old,except that unlike Valverde, who was around when Armstrong was winning and indeed beat the Texan to a Tour stage in 2005, Quintana can climb and time trial, and pretty well as well. As another of the Colombian revolution coming through, Quintana looks a much more likely bet, but will Movistar, who invested so much in Valverde to the extent of basically promising him employment when he was banned and allowing him to train with the team, be able to let the youngster come through and overhaul their Spanish pin up boy?

Who is going to win? I suspect Valverde will pull rank, but he never goes that well in France – sure, he won a stage last year, but overall he was down the standings. Quintana could take white and be up there if he was backed from the start though.

4. Joaquim Rodriguez v Daniel Moreno (Katusha)

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Moreno and Rodeiguez work well together, but there are murmurings that Moreno might well be the better of the two – of course, up a steep hill, ‘Purito’ is the powerhouse, but this isn’t the Vuelta, and Moreno tends to go much better in the time trials. Could the Spaniards on the Russian team be in for a scuffle?

Who is going to win? There probably won’t be a scuffle, as even if Rodriguez loses big at Mont Saint Michel, it would take Moreno being in yellow or very close for the leadership to switch. Rodriguez the dark horse for overall glory?

5. Garmin

2013-03-25T104941Z_1_CBRE92O0U2W00_RTROPTP_2_CYCLING-VUELTA

My beloved favourite team (…), I’m not quite sure what Garmin are up to. They’re leaving their pre-selection very late, but have a problem, of experience versus form. Christian Vandevelde, the man who was going to win the Tour clean according to Saint Vaughters, is beyond past his best, let alone simply past it, whilst Hesjedal has just crashed out the Tour de Suisse. Danielson has proven to be a white elephant, and so it’s men like Dan Martin and Andrew Talanksy who deserve support. However, Garmin will no doubt take Farrar and Saint Millar as well, then go with a ‘we’ve got multiple leaders’ strategy. It will all look very jolly, but if someone like Talansky actually wants to win, he needs the team behind him, not dithering over who should lead who.

6. Chris Froome v Richie Porte (Sky)

'Your numbers...tell me them softly'
‘Your numbers…tell me them softly’

Just kidding! They’re best chums.

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